Blumenthal: Got Milk?

In Speech On Senate Floor, Blumenthal Encourages Progress On Bipartisan Farm Bill Compromise, Urges Conferees To Maintain Subsidies For Dairy Farmers

(Washington, DC) – In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) encouraged continued progress on a bipartisan Farm Bill compromise, and urged conferees to maintain subsidies for dairy farmers in Connecticut and across the country. During the speech, Blumenthal held up a glass of milk and echoed the “Got milk?” slogan of the famous dairy advertisement campaign and then discussed the success of several dairy farms and businesses in Connecticut and why subsidies included in the Farm Bill are important to their survival.

After Blumenthal’s remarks, U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) humorously inquired about the milk-filled glass on Blumenthal’s desk and whether it complied with Senate rules. The senators then engaged in a colloquy about milk and rules pertaining to beverages on the Senate floor.

“I'm pleased that we are on the cusp of a compromise agreement on the Farm Bill that will serve the interests of farmers in Connecticut and around the country, most especially the dozens of dairy farmers with relatively small farms around Connecticut who have said to me again and again we need help, and we need certainty,” Blumenthal said. “That is the message that they've given me as I've visited their farms around the state of Connecticut time and again, and I hope help and certainty are on the way.” 

Video of the speech is here. Text of the speech is below.

BLUMENTHAL

I'm pleased and proud to follow my colleague from Arkansas (Senator Pryor), and join him in his applauding the Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski, for her extraordinary and historic work on this measure which serves so well our values and goals and our traditions in the Senate of bipartisan service, and putting America first over partisanship. And I want to join my very distinguished colleague from Arkansas who has highlighted so well the values served by agriculture in America and served well by this appropriations bill and by the measure that Chairwoman Stabenow is seeking to forge, again, through bipartisan work involving both houses of this body.

Agriculture serves so many of our basic values in this nation, environmental and consumer values, patriotism and pride in a way of life, and in Connecticut we know deeply and urgently how threatened these values and traditions and way of life are and the environmental and consumer issues at stake. I'm pleased that we are near a compromise on the verge and the cusp of an agreement in the Farm Bill that will serve the interests of farmers in Connecticut and around the country, most especially the dozens of dairy farmers with relatively small farms around Connecticut who have said to me again and again and again we need help, and we need certainty. That is the message that they've given me as I've visited their farms around the state of Connecticut time and again, and now apparently help and certainty are on the way.

I'm pleased that the farm bill conferees have reached a compromise on the dairy provisions in the farm bill. We are going to be studying them very, very closely. They've only just been announced. Apparently the new deal announced by the farm bill conferees would keep the Margin Insurance Program but remove the Dairy Market Stabilization Program, and in place of that Dairy Market Stabilization Program, the deal revives a recently expired Milk Income Loss Coverage Plan known as the ‘Milk Plan,’ Milk Income Loss Coverage Plan as a transitional program while the new Marginal Insurance [Program] is set up by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Without going into all the details here, I think this agreement represents progress and I'm going to carefully scrutinize it and seek to improve it from the standpoint of Connecticut's dairy farmers. But there can be no doubt, none whatsoever, to anyone in this body, I think we all agree, as to the importance of the milk industry, beginning with the dairy farmers.

Indeed, reflecting the importance of milk to America is the fact that it is the only beverage other than water that is permitted on the floor of the United States Senate so far as I know. I think I'm correct. And so I'm pleased and proud to have today some milk on the floor, the first in my young experience as a United States Senator, and I'm not sure that it is a correct parliamentary inquiry, Mr. President, but got milk? I'm willing to share.

This issue is a very serious one because the lives and livelihoods of our farmers are at stake. The open space that may be sacrificed if dairy farms surrender and are forced to abandon this way of life by the increasingly high cost of feed, fuel, labor that are pressing them as they also encounter potential price diminishing, and reductions, and so they are squeezed. Dairy farmers are squeezed, and in Connecticut we have small family-owned farms like the Fairvue Farms in Woodstock, Hytone Farm in Coventry, Mapleleaf Farm in Hebron, Fort Hill Farms in Thompson, Cushman Farms in North Franklin, and Graywall Farms in Lebanon. I visited a number of them. I know firsthand how hard these farmers work simply to keep their farms going. These six farms make up The Farmer’s Cow, a group of Connecticut family-owned farms dedicated to producing some of the very best milk in America. Their milk is so good, in fact, they opened a milk bar. That's right a milk bar in Mansfield called The Farmer's Cow Calfe and Creamery, you can choose between five or six types and flavors of milk to help wash down their delicious and fresh sandwiches, salads, cheeses and ice cream. Visit Connecticut and visit The Farmer's Cow Calfe [and Creamery]. These are the farms we need to keep going. These are the men and women we need to support. We can and must support our dairy farmers in Connecticut and around the country.

In Connecticut, in fact, we have more than 150 dairy farms on 70,000 acres, 18 percent of our state's land which translate into $2 billion in economic activity for the state of Connecticut alone. These farmers need help, they need stability, and they need certainty. Unfortunately, some in the House of Representatives have delayed the farm bill for far too long, leading dairy producers to wonder whether the federal government is a friend or a foe to their businesses. And even though Connecticut's dairy industry is a significant contributor to the state's agricultural industry and general economy, the industry's strength and survival depend on support that the federal government can and must provide. According to the Connecticut Farm Bureau, that is a fact of life and they are supporting efforts by our delegation to provide that support.

In Connecticut, in 1975, there were 817 dairy farms. Today, there are 150. I think that experience probably is reflected by every state represented in this body, every one of my colleagues perhaps can attest to the diminishing number of dairy farmers and farmers in general. But Connecticut is doing its part, and doing its share so that the farms in our state are sustained, and the federal government ought to do its part as well. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Connecticut ranks 45 out of 50 states in receiving agriculture-related subsidies. Connecticut received $127 million between 1995 and 2010, compared to the $22 billion received by Iowa and the $24 billion that went to Texas. Nothing against those states, not criticizing those amounts, but the amount that we receive in Connecticut is a fraction, a small fraction of what is needed to sustain our dairy farmers and that's why I will be urging and advocating for dairy farmers in Connecticut under this deal, their interests are shared nationwide, we need to make sure that the agreement announced yesterday by the farm bill conferees – keeping the Margin Insurance Program but removing the Dairy Market Stabilization Program and reviving the Milk Program – truly serves milk producers in our nation. Not just the processors, but consumers and farmers.

We must do right by America's dairy farmers. An often underrepresented group in this body. And make sure that we do right by our farmers and consumers, by giving them the certainty and help they need to continue a way of life and a product that is vital to our health and our well-being as a nation. I thank you, Mr. President, and I yield the floor.

MIKULSKI

Will the gentleman from Connecticut yield for a question?

BLUMENTHAL

I would be pleased to yield for a question.

MIKULSKI

First let me thank you for your generous words about the work of this committee. What's in your glass? I'm drinking water. What is on your desk?

BLUMENTHAL

I have milk, Madam Chairman, and I offered the President, the Presiding Officer, to share with him and I will personally after we are done here, I know that Maine has its share of farmers, he is not allowed under our Senate rules to respond in substance, but I'd be glad to share with you, Madam Chairman.

MIKULSKI

I've been in the Senate 25 years, seen a lot of senators try to put a lot of things in those glasses. I've never seen milk on the Senate floor. Is that a permissible use?

BLUMENTHAL

I am told, Madam Chairwoman, it is a permissible beverage on the floor of the Senate. If not, I'm sure I will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action.

MIKULSKI

I think it's wonderful for all of us who yearn for a calcium-rich diet to see that. But actually we salute Connecticut and its strong agricultural presence in our economy, and for the Senator bringing a nutritious beverage to the Senate floor that's allowed under the rules and if it's not, I'm sure we could have the appropriate committees of jurisdiction to do it. But most of all I think what the senator is saying we have a lot of people in our country that work in agriculture, and agriculture is not one field. The agriculture of the United States of America is diverse, and we can't let these small farmers fade away or new emerging farmers that I'm seeing in my own state whether it's in dairy or growing beef and so on, and with the whole so-called farm-to-fork movement that this could be the dawn of a new age in agriculture while we preserve that which has been traditional and fed America during good times and bad. So I thank the gentleman for his work and his advocacy and look forward to working with him.

BLUMENTHAL

I thank the Chairwoman for those remarks and say to her, as I do to all of my colleagues, that agriculture and farming really are a way of life. We need to make sure that our family farms, and all farms, are sustained. We tend sometimes to neglect or take them for granted, and I really want to, again, thank the distinguished senator from Maryland [for] the time and attention she has devoted over the many years that she's been here to the farms of Maryland and the farms of America. And I think it is a cause that we share, whether it's Alabama or Georgia or any other state that's represented on the floor here today, or Maine. We need to make sure that we provide the safety net where it's necessary and the support when it's due, but also keep in mind consumers ultimately are the beneficiary – the men and women and children. Having four children myself and having for a time actually worked on a farm, I know that this product is central really to the American existence and the American way of life. So I thank the Chairwoman, and I yield the floor.